NEW ORLEANS, LA – After setting a glacial early pace, Markitoff nearly stole the race at 62/1 odds but ultimately lost the head-bob at the wire to the 1/5 favorite Bricks and Mortar in Saturday’s Muniz Memorial Handicap (G2) at Fair Grounds.
Sent from the gates as the prohibitive bettors’ choice under Irad Ortiz, Jr., Bricks and Mortar initially ranged up to challenge for the lead before being coaxed into relaxing in second as the field hit the clubhouse turn. With a lack of any early speed horses in the field, Markitoff was able to run freely and unpressured up front through opening fractions of :24.82, :51.07, and 1:15.28. Midway through the far turn, Bricks and Mortar began advancing alongside his outside and hit the top of the stretch looking to roll. Once Bricks and Mortar met the pacesetter’s throat latch, it seemed like the race was over, but Markitoff had other plans.
Digging in gamely along the rail, Markitoff fought back and turned it into a two-horse sprint for the finish. With their heads bobbing inches apart, Bricks and Mortar and Markitoff hit the wire seemingly at the same exact moment. A photo review ultimately determined that Bricks and Mortar won the bob by a nose in a final time of 1:50.44 for the 1 1/8-mile event over the firm turf course.
“He needs to have a target, so we didn’t want to go to the lead,” said Ortiz, Jr. “I tried to settle him without fighting him too much, even though we were walking. I knew (Markitoff) was going to have something, and I knew we were going slow, so I just let him walk and kept close to him as a target.”
Synchrony, an at-the-wire winner of the Fair Grounds Handicap (G3) here last out, was unable to keep up with the top pair and settled for third over Divisidero. Behind them, Hot Springs and Inspector Lynley weakened late to complete the order of finish.
There were four scratches in the race. First Premio and Final Copy did not race at all on Saturday, while Bandua and Silver Dust were both cross-entered in the New Orleans Handicap (G2) one race prior, where they finished fourth and second, respectively.
Bricks and Mortar’s win was his third straight, including the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) last out, and improved his overall record to 9-7-0-2. The Chad Brown-trained 5-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway has now earned $3,198,250 for co-owners Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence.
“I was very impressed with (his) ability to adapt to a very slow pace and also concede significant weight to the rest of the field and still prevail,” Brown said of his steed who carried 10 pounds more than Markitoff.
Bricks and Mortar returned $2.60 to win, $2.20 to place, and $2.10 to show. Markitoff brought back $17.60 to place and $5.40 to show, while Synchrony paid $2.40 to show.